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Nelson Cruz and why cheating makes sense

Today's BioGenesis suspensions may knock down performance enhancing drugs in baseball, but Nelson Cruz's case shows why many will try to cheat anyway.


We're still waiting for official word on MLB's BioGenesis suspensions (see update below), but it's becoming increasingly likely that one of the players suspended will have a tie to the Brewers. Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz was a Brewer briefly in 2005 before being sent to Texas in the Carlos Lee deal in 2006.

To date the faces of the BioGenesis investigation have been Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, two longtime productive major leaguers. Braun and A-Rod didn't have clear turning points in their career where you could suspect some kind of rule breaking took place, they were just good players who remained good. In Cruz, though, baseball has a different kind of example. Cruz may be a textbook example of the reason why players will always try to cheat.

Cruz joined the Brewers in December of 2004, and Milwaukee was already his third organization. He'd been traded for players like Jorge Velandia and Keith Ginter. The Brewers gave him his first seven MLB plate appearances before including him as a throw-in in the Carlos Lee trade. Following the 2007 season Cruz was a career .231/.282/.385 hitter. The Rangers designated him for assignment the next spring, and he went unclaimed on waivers.

We don't know when Nelson Cruz first came across BioGenesis or started taking performance enhancing drugs, but if this was the point it'd be easy to understand why. At 26 years old, Cruz's major league career might have reached its conclusion. If someone had approached him with a potential miracle drug to try, he really wouldn't have had much to lose.

Cruz made it back to the big leagues with the Rangers in August of 2008, hitting .330/.421/.609 down the stretch. He was an All Star in 2009, hitting 33 home runs after never producing more than nine in any previous season. He has an .852 OPS over the last six seasons with 142 home runs, has played in two All Star Games and been a member of three playoff teams. He's also been paid about $20 million over that time.

Over the coming days, weeks and months we're going to see a lot of hand-wringing and moralizing about how Cruz and others have sullied baseball's good name. How they've sacrificed their own integrity for personal benefit. Perhaps they deserve some of that. They cheated, and they got caught.

With that said, for every player like Cruz there are dozens more who have spent their entire lives in pursuit of a single goal, MLB stardom, and instead found themselves just short of that dream. I'm not asking you to feel sorry for them. But before you condemn them as reprehensible human beings or worse, I'd ask you to put yourself in their shoes for a moment and consider the possibility that you might've done the same thing.

UPDATE: Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the following players have been suspended -

  • Nelson Cruz, as expected.
  • Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta
  • Phillies reliever Antonio Bastardo
  • Mets infielder Jordany Valdespin
  • Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera
  • Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli
  • Mariners catcher Jesus Montero
  • Astros pitcher Segio Escalona
  • Padres pitcher Fautino De Los Santos
  • Yankees outfielder Fernando Martinez
  • Free agent pitcher Jordan Norberto